A number of readers have asked me when did I undergo my epiphany, abandon right-wing Reaganism and become an apostle of truth and justice.
I appreciate the friendly sentiment, but there is a great deal of misconception in the question.
When I saw that the neoconservative response to 9/11 was to turn a war against stateless terrorism into military attacks on Muslim states, I realized that the Bush administration was committing a strategic blunder with open-ended disastrous consequences for the US that, in the end, would destroy Bush, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement.
My warning was not prompted by an effort to save Bush’s bacon. I have never been any party’s political or ideological servant. I used my positions in the congressional staff and the Reagan administration to change the economic policy of the United States. In my efforts, I found more allies among influential Democrats, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell Long, Joint Economic Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen and my Georgia Tech fraternity brother Sam Nunn, than I did among traditional Republicans who were only concerned about the budget deficit.
My goals were to reverse the Keynesian policy mix that caused worsening “Phillips curve” trade-offs between employment and inflation and to cure the stagflation that destroyed Jimmy Carter’s presidency. No one has seen a “Phillips curve” trade-off or experienced stagflation since the supply-side policy was implemented. (These gains are now being eroded by the labor arbitrage that is replacing American workers with foreign ones. In January 2004 I teamed up with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer in the New York Times and at a Brookings Institution conference in a joint effort to call attention to the erosion of the US economy and Americans’ job prospects by outsourcing.)
The supply-side policy used reductions in the marginal rate of taxation on additional income to create incentives to expand production so that consumer demand would result in increased real output instead of higher prices. No doubt, the rich benefitted, but ordinary people were no longer faced simultaneously with rising inflation and lost jobs. Employment expanded for the remainder of the century without having to pay for it with high and rising rates of inflation. Don’t ever forget that Reagan was elected and re-elected by blue collar Democrats.
The left-wing’s demonization of Ronald Reagan owes much to the Republican Establishment. The Republican Establishment regarded Reagan as a threat to its hegemony over the party. They saw Jack Kemp the same way. Kemp, a professional football star quarterback, represented an essentially Democratic district. Kemp was aggressive in challenging Republican orthodoxy. Both Reagan and Kemp spoke to ordinary people. As a high official in the Reagan administration, I was battered by the Republican Establishment, which wanted enough Reagan success so as not to jeopardize the party’s “lock on the presidency” but enough failure so as to block the succession to another outsider. Anyone who reads my book, The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1984) will see what the real issues were.
If I had time to research my writings over the past 30 years, I could find examples of partisan articles in behalf of Republicans and against Democrats. However, political partisanship is not the corpus of my writings. I had a 16-year stint as Business Week’s first outside columnist, despite hostility within the magazine and from the editor’s New York social set, because the editor regarded me as the most trenchant critic of the George H.W. Bush administration in the business. The White House felt the same way and lobbied to have me removed from the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Earlier when I resigned from the Reagan administration to accept appointment to the new chair, CSIS was part of Georgetown University. The University’s liberal president, Timothy Healy, objected to having anyone from the Reagan administration in a chair affiliated with Georgetown University. CSIS had to defuse the situation by appointing a distinguished panel of scholars from outside universities, including Harvard, to ratify my appointment.
I can truly say that at one time or the other both sides have tried to shut me down. I have experienced the same from “free thinking” libertarians, who are free thinking only inside their own box.
In Reagan’s time we did not recognize that neoconservatives had a Jacobin frame of mind. Perhaps we were not paying close enough attention. We saw neoconservatives as former left-wingers who had realized that the Soviet Union might be a threat after all. We regarded them as allies against Henry Kissinger’s inclination to reach an unfavorable accommodation with the Soviet Union. Kissinger thought, or was believed to think, that Americans had no stomach for a drawn-out contest and that he needed to strike a deal before the Soviets staked the future on a lack of American resolution.
Reagan was certainly no neoconservative. He went along with some of their schemes, but when neoconservatives went too far, he fired them. George W. Bush promotes them. The left-wing might object that the offending neocons in the Reagan administration were later pardoned, but there was sincere objection to criminalizing what was seen, rightly or wrongly, as stalwartness in standing up to communism.
Neoconservatives were disappointed with Reagan. Reagan’s goal was to END the cold war, not to WIN it. He made common purpose with Gorbachev and ENDED the cold war. It is the new Jacobins, the neoconservatives, who have exploited this victory by taking military bases to Russian borders.
I have always objected to injustice. My writings about prosecutorial abuse have put me at odds with “law and order conservatives.” I have written extensively about wrongful convictions, both of the rich and famous and the poor and unknown. My thirty-odd columns on the frame-up of 26 innocent people in the Wenatchee, Washington, child sex abuse witch hunt played a role in the eventual overturning of the wrongful convictions.
My book, with Lawrence Stratton, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, details the erosion of the legal rights that make law a shield of the innocent instead of a weapon in the hands of government. Without the protection of law, rich and poor alike are at the mercy of government. In their hatred of “the rich,” the left-wing overlooks that in the 20th century the rich were the class most persecuted by government. The class genocide of the 20th century is the greatest genocide in history.
Americans have forgotten what it takes to remain free. Instead, every ideology, every group is determined to use government to advance its agenda. As the government’s power grows, the people are eclipsed.
We have reached a point where the Bush administration is determined to totally eclipse the people. Bewitched by neoconservatives and lustful for power, the Bush administration and the Republican Party are aligning themselves firmly against the American people. Their first victims, of course, were the true conservatives. Having eliminated internal opposition, the Bush administration is now using blackmail obtained through illegal spying on American citizens to silence the media and the opposition party.
Before flinching at my assertion of blackmail, ask yourself why President Bush refuses to obey the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The purpose of the FISA court is to ensure that administrations do not spy for partisan political reasons. The warrant requirement is to ensure that a panel of independent federal judges hears a legitimate reason for the spying, thus protecting a president from the temptation to abuse the powers of government. The only reason for the Bush administration to evade the court is that the Bush administration had no legitimate reasons for its spying. This should be obvious even to a naif.
The United States is undergoing a coup against the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, civil liberties, and democracy itself. The “liberal press” has been co-opted. As everyone must know by now, the New York Times has totally failed its First Amendment obligations, allowing Judith Miller to make war propaganda for the Bush administration, suppressing for an entire year the news that the Bush administration was illegally spying on American citizens, and denying coverage to Al Gore’s speech that challenged the criminal deeds of the Bush administration.
The TV networks mimic Fox News’ faux patriotism. Anyone who depends on print, TV, or right-wing talk radio media is totally misinformed. The Bush administration has achieved a de facto Ministry of Propaganda.
The years of illegal spying have given the Bush administration power over the media and the opposition. Journalists and Democratic politicians don’t want to have their adulterous affairs broadcast over television or to see their favorite online porn sites revealed in headlines in the local press with their names attached. Only people willing to risk such disclosures can stand up for the country.
Homeland Security and the Patriot Act are not our protectors. They undermine our protection by trashing the Constitution and the civil liberties it guarantees. Those with a tyrannical turn of mind have always used fear and hysteria to overcome obstacles to their power and to gain new means of silencing opposition.
Consider the no-fly list. This list has no purpose whatsoever but to harass and disrupt the livelihoods of Bush’s critics. If a known terrorist were to show up at check-in, he would be arrested and taken into custody, not told that he could not fly. What sense does it make to tell someone who is not subject to arrest and who has cleared screening that he or she cannot fly? How is this person any more dangerous than any other passenger?
If Senator Ted Kennedy, a famous senator with two martyred brothers, can be put on a no-fly list, as he was for several weeks, anyone can be put on the list. The list has no accountability. People on the list cannot even find out why they are on the list. There is no recourse, no procedure for correcting mistakes.
I am certain that there are more Bush critics on the list than there are terrorists. According to reports, the list now comprises 80,000 names! This number must greatly dwarf the total number of terrorists in the world and certainly the number of known terrorists.
How long before members of the opposition party, should there be one, find that they cannot return to Washington for important votes, because they have been placed on the no-fly list? What oversight does Congress or a panel of federal judges exercise over the list to make sure there are valid reasons for placing people on the list?
If the government can have a no-fly list, it can have a no-drive list. The Iraqi resistance has demonstrated the destructive potential of car bombs. If we are to believe the government’s story about the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh showed that a rental truck bomb could destroy a large office building. Indeed, what is to prevent the government from having a list of people who are not allowed to leave their homes? If the Bush administration can continue its policy of picking up people anywhere in the world and detaining them indefinitely without having to show any evidence for their detention, it can do whatever it wishes.
Many readers have told me, some gleefully, that I will be placed on the no-fly list along with all other outspoken critics of the growth in unaccountable executive power and war based on lies and deception. It is just a matter of time. Unchecked, unaccountable power grows more audacious by the day. As one reader recently wrote, “when the president of the United States can openly brag about being a felon, without fear of the consequences, the game is all but over.”
Congress and the media have no fight in them, and neither, apparently, do the American people. Considering the feebleness of the opposition, perhaps the best strategy is for the opposition to shut up, not merely for our own safety but, more importantly, to remove any impediments to Bush administration self-destruction. The sooner the Bush administration realizes its goals of attacking Iran, Syria, and the Shia militias in Lebanon, the more likely the administration will collapse in the maelstrom before it achieves a viable police state. Hamas’ victory in the recent Palestinian elections indicates that Muslim outrage over further US aggression in the Middle East has the potential to produce uprisings in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Not even Karl Rove and Fox “News” could spin Bush out of the catastrophe.
Perhaps we should go further and join the neocon chorus, urging on invasions of Iran and Syria and sending in the Marines to disarm Hizbullah in Lebanon. Not even plots of the German High Command could get rid of Hitler, but when Hitler marched German armies into Russia he destroyed himself. If Iraq hasn’t beat the hubris out of what Gordon Prather aptly terms the “neo-crazies,” US military adventures against Iran and Hizbullah will teach humility to the neo-crazies.
Many patriotic readers have written to me expressing their frustration that fact and common sense cannot gain a toehold in a debate guided by hysteria and disinformation. Other readers write that 9/11 shields Bush from accountability, They challenge me to explain why three World Trade Center buildings on one day collapsed into their own footprints at free fall speed, an event outside the laws of physics except under conditions of controlled demolition. They insist that there is no stopping war and a police state as long as the government’s story on 9/11 remains unchallenged.
They could be right. There are not many editors eager for writers to explore the glaring defects of the 9/11 Commission Report. One would think that if the report could stand analysis, there would not be a taboo against calling attention to the inadequacy of its explanations. We know the government lied about Iraqi WMD, but we believe the government told the truth about 9/11.
Debate is dead in America for two reasons: One is that the media concentration permitted in the 1990s has put news and opinion in the hands of a few corporate executives who do not dare risk their broadcasting licenses by getting on the wrong side of government, or their advertising revenues by becoming “controversial.” The media follows a safe line and purveys only politically correct information. The other reason is that Americans today are no longer enthralled by debate. They just want to hear what they want to hear. The right-wing, left-wing, and libertarians alike preach to the faithful. Democracy cannot succeed when there is no debate.
Americans need to understand that many interests are using the “war on terror” to achieve their agendas. The Federalist Society is using the “war on terror” to achieve its agenda of concentrating power in the executive and packing the Supreme Court to this effect. The neocons are using the war to achieve their agenda of Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. Police agencies are using the war to remove constraints on their powers and to make themselves less accountable. Republicans are using the war to achieve one-party rule–theirs. The Bush administration is using the war to avoid accountability and evade constraints on executive powers. Arms industries, or what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex,” are using the war to fatten profits. Terrorism experts are using the war to gain visibility. Security firms are using it to gain customers. Readers can add to this list at will. The lack of debate gives carte blanche to these agendas.
One certainty prevails. Bush is committing America to a path of violence and coercion, and he is getting away with it.
PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: email@example.com